You’ve done it! You packed up your bags, decided to move halfway across the world, and immerse yourself in Milanese culture. First off, congratulations on being brave enough to pursue this opportunity.
Whether you're pursuing a Fashion Business internship or a Journalism internship, relocating for any professional experience is an extremely mature move to make; you’re on the track to greatness if you continue to make decisions such as this. With various career fields offered to intern in what is known as the "New York of Italy", you cannot go wrong with what's to come!
Secondly, it has been said that it takes some time to understand the culture of Milan. It is unlike other Italian cities and it does not easily reveal its gems to newcomers. 8 - 12 weeks is a relatively short span of time when trying to assimilate to a new culture and unfortunately, you don’t have time to wait for said gems to magically appear. Some tips on what to do and where to go may prove very helpful and lucky for you, we've put together these tips to ease your assimilation to Milan!
After a fufilling day at your Non-Profit internship, you just had the best dinner of your life at a quaint restaurant along Navigli. The ambiance was perfect, the waiter was adorable and pleasant while you attempted to test out your newfound language skills by ordering in Italian. Not to mention the food was AMAZING. If you were in the states, you would already be thinking about that 25% tip to show your wait staff how much you value their service.The beauty of this adventure is you’re not in the states, and in Italy tipping isn’t really necessary!
Often times, gratuity is already included by way of a service charge on your bill and/or a cover charge, sometimes both. In the states if you left a $1-2 tip on a bill over $10 that’s considered insulting. However, If the bill comes up to 48 euros and you have a 50, feel free to leave the change! Aside from that you can shamelessly hold onto those extra coins.
Plan Your Commute
You may be thinking about your commute to your internship. While Milan does have a pretty efficient public transportation system, it is a bit quirky in that you must purchase your ticket before boarding. Good on you for having exact change in your pocket, but to be honest the bus driver doesn’t care. They will only accept a pre-purchased ticket.
This does require you to do a bit of planning as most bus stops don’t have ticket machines next to the stop. Tickets are typically sold at newspaper stands or tobacco shops and on Sundays it can be a struggle to find one that is open. If you’re planning to venture further than your feet can comfortably carry you on a Sunday, plan ahead and buy your bus ticket on Saturday when an open shop isn’t as hard to come by.
Pro-tip: Once on the bus/tram, make sure you validate the ticket by inserting it into a machine that will “stamp” the date/time on the ticket. Keep your eyes wide and follow the locals as you could be fined if you miss this. You and I both know you want to hold onto your extra coins.
Hours May Vary
There may be a time when you need a specific item from a little shop around the corner from the Duomo. You swore that the store was still open last time you got off of work, but now it’s closed! The universe is not against you and you are not plagued with bad luck.In the States we’re used to shops being closed on Sundays. In Italy, some stores have a day during the week they are closed and is considered their day of rest. Most stores will also be closed Monday mornings but open for business promptly in the afternoon.
A misconception is that all stores will close in the afternoon, but it really depends on where you are in Italy, and the time of year. Particularly in crowded city centers, many stores should remain open through the afternoon. Make sure to note the hours of your favorite shops and any trends in hours of other shops.
Eat When They Eat
You can’t keep tabs on the hours every business keep, but if there is anything you can bet your bottom dollar on, it’s that most restaurants will close in the afternoon. Try to beat the clock – lunch is usually 1 or 2pm and most will be done by 2:30pm. If the schedule doesn’t meet your lunch break at your work, make sure to pack lunch and snacks!
You can’t go wrong with having an afternoon snack before lunch officially starts and keeping an after lunch snack handy in case you feel a tummy rumble before dinner is always a good idea. When making dinner reservations, aim for 8:00 - 8.30pm (many restaurants won’t even open until after 7). As dining is a major part of the culture, some groups will make reservations for 9:30 - 10:00pm and close down the restaurant!
I should forewarn you that Italians take their food as it is listed on the menu, seldom, if ever, making special requests such as "dressing on the side" or "hold the olive oil." If you have special dietary needs, make them known; they can usually be accommodated. If you’re just being picky, eat like a local.
Don’t Feel Neglected
Customer service has more to do with quality than quantity. In restaurants and stores the staff will acknowledge your presence and help you as needed, but don’t expect to be waited on attentively. As Americans, we’ve gotten far too used to overly friendly and borderline invasive service.
In Italy, they most likely won’t ask “How’s it going today?”, if you like the food (they know it’s good), if you want a refill, or any other “friendly” inquiries that are, in reality, unessential to your dining experience. Politely flag down your waiter when you need something, but be patient in knowing they are probably working very hard.
Pro-tip: If asking for additional items (refills, sauces, etc) try to ask for everything your table needs at once to help your waiter save time and energy!
If you place your order at the counter, ask if you can sit down: some places charge for table service, others do not. Note that in some places you have to pay a cashier, then place your order and show your scontrino (receipt) at the counter. Might take you a few times to get this one right but at least you won’t be surprised if someone side-eyes you for sitting down before paying for your seat.
Hands Off the Produce
Being handsy is a normal part of the grocery shopping experience but Italians prefer to take a bit of precaution when dealing with produce. In a supermarket you should see plastic gloves and bags near the scales or throughout the produce section. They are not merely there for food carrying purposes, please use them when choosing your items from the pile.
There won’t be gloves in an open air market because you are not expected to handle anything yourself. Each stall owner will gather your items for you and if they need your assistance they will ask for it. Other than that, don’t touch the goods! Also, try to keep your preferences to yourself as it is considered disrespectful to tell the vendor which specific fruit/veggie you would like them to select.
Don’t Ask for Fettuccine Alfredo or Pepperoni Pizza
Your favorite dish at Olive Garden or Domino’s is an American interpretation of Italian cuisine. Don’t be devastated, just learn the lingo. Alfredo is more commonly a person’s name and could lead to you being introduced to a random local (this might sound exciting to some of you - if you make friends with an Alfredo, let us know in the comments).
If you’re into creamy pasta, skim the menu for a dish with “panna” as an ingredient. If you would like thin slices of salami on your pizza check the menu for “pizza al salamino,” “pizza diavola,” or “pizza calabrese.” Asking for “Pepperoni” will lead to you having hot peppers all over your slice and your palate might not be ready for that flavor burst.
There you have it! Thanks to these tips, you can go from a student here pursuing an Event Planning internship to a Milano local in cinque seconds flat. If you’ve already spent some time in Milan, feel free to tell us more in the comments!